Tales from the Gazebo – Character Creation Part 2: The Brown Coat Method

Character Creation Part 2: The Brown Coat Method
By Cape Rust

There are thousands of Brown Coats out there. In the real world, they want to keep the signal going… they want the people in tinsel town to achieve cranial rectal separation and bring Firefly back. In the actual world of Firefly, the Brown Coats believed in freedom and independence. The Brown Coat method of character creation is the method that stresses independence. Depending on the system you are using, the mechanics that it uses to determine character statistics will determine how effective this method will be.

If the system you are playing uses a point-buy system, then this method should cause no problems. White Wolf and Shadowrun are both systems that use the point-buy method. Once the GM determines how many points he or she wants to give the players, most of the work is done. As long as the players stick to spending the amount of points that the GM has given them and follow any special rules, then the only thing the GM really needs to do is double check the character sheet to make sure the player hasn’t spent to many or too few points.

The Brown Coat method is actually much quicker than the Crew Style method. This method basically allows everyone to develop their characters on their own time away from the table and grants everyone the ability to sit down at the game table, whip out their character sheets, and start playing. For the GM, the Brown Coat method can cause a little more away-from-the-table work. This work normally comes in the form of having to coordinate with each of the players and answer any questions that might arise as the good idea fairy assaults the player’s minds.

A definite advantage to this method is that the GM can shape some of the character concepts in an environment that is low threat to the players. Here is what I mean: Let’s say that your table flower player, who only speaks to let you know, as the GM, what his or her roll results are, and decides they want to play a face person. I’m all for people stepping out of their comfort zones, but let’s face it, it is no fun when the only social interaction that your face person has with NPCs and the world is resolved by dice rolls as opposed to actual at-table interaction. Now this can be a good chance to give that table flower player a chance to branch out, but it could result in a dice-focused game that may or may not be fun for the entire group.

As a GM, I would encourage that player to take some social skills, but not to play a character that is focused only on social interactions. Be honest with that player. Let them know that you are making this suggestion based on their lack of interaction at the table. Don’t be unkind about it, but if you let them know why you are saying what you are saying, it could be helpful to them at the table later on in their gaming career. Remember that as a GM you can be a coach and you can help develop less-experienced folks into more well-rounded players.

One way to give the player the best of both worlds is to encourage them to take a few social skills while taying to get them to focus on another vocation. Remember to make it worth that player’s while to take those social skills. If I were running this game, I would actually give a few social skill points to my table flower player. Then to go with those skill points, I would generate a few encounters that focus on those particular skills the player chose. This approach works toward player development, keeps the game interesting, and still allows for role-playing.

Because the players are operating independently when it comes to making their characters, the GM has a unique chance to hand out benefits to each player based on their style at the table and what I like to call their “level of responsibility” as a player. As a GM, we all have players who are just more involved in the game than others. This doesn’t mean that the other players are bad, but there are those players who are always making lengthy and interesting character backgrounds, sacrificing a chance to get cool magic items because they know that the item will better serve the party in someone else’s hands or that by giving the item to another player or an NPC that it will help the story advance. There are very few times when a GM gets to reward players like this without causing resentment. The Brown Coat method is a great time to do this. Most of the other players won’t know what you have or have not given the other players until it is too late. If this player is the type of person who puts the needs of the party above their own and tends to make good choices in-game, then as a GM you will have fewer worries if you give them a valuable item or a powerful connection.

For those readers that have seen the Firefly series, you will remember when Sheppard Book was injured, taken aboard the alliance ship, fixed up, and released with no questions asked. That type of benefit probably wouldn’t be a good idea for the power gamer who likes to rape, pillage, and plunder. But that girl who always plays the healer, not because she wants to be a Dr. in real life, but because she knows that everyone else doesn’t want to sit there and buff the party. She then spends the entire combat receiving attacks of opportunity because her reaction status is unaware that she is healing her comrades, this is a great way to say thank you to that player.

As I am Apt to do, I will continue and finish the Brown Coat Method next week. To re-cap, I discussed that while the Brown Coat Method can cause the GM some additional work before the first session and it can have some advantages when it comes to shaping player character creation and rewarding those players that care as much about the whole story as they do themselves. Until next week, please remember that, as a GM, the game is about the players, not about you. You have a duty to help players develop and grow. We often forget that hard lessons learned at the table might be hard lessons that don’t have to be re-learned in the real world.

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